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Can College Athletes Be Considered Employees?

ByAndrew Pistone

Published on Mon Nov 29 2021

|

2 min read

Can College Athletes Be Considered Employees?

There’s been a whirlwind of change surrounding the rights of college athletes that has taken place in 2021. The new name, image and likeness rules allow student-athletes to profit off of their individual brands and identities. This has opened the door for all kinds of partnerships, advertisements and larger conversations to be sought after to discuss what it truly means to be a student athlete these days. The definition has gotten even murkier in the past couple of weeks, with two large organizations disagreeing over whether a student-athlete should be considered an employee of the school.

The National Labor Relations Board(NLRB) sent out a memo at the end of September stating that student athletes should be viewed as employees.

“Players at academic institutions perform services for institutions in return for compensation and subject to their control. (We) fully support the conclusion that certain players at academic institutions are statutory employees, who have the right to act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment,” Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel for the NLRB, composed. Via InsideHighered.com

This stance exists in stark contract to the NCAA’s take on their relationship with their players. The NCAA issued a statement on the topic themselves.

“College athletes are students who compete against other students, not employees who compete against other employees. Both academics and athletics are part of a total educational experience that is unique to the United States, and vital to the holistic development of all who participate.” Via CBSNews.com

How did this topic pick up steam in recent weeks? There was a lawsuit filed against the NCAA by several former athletes, led by former Villanova Wildcats defensive back Ralph “Trey” Johnson. Johnson and his co-plaintiffs assert that they should have been paid some sort of minimum wage by the NCAA, since he felt that their athletic commitments required them to follow a specific schedule, just like a traditional employer’s who could set their business hours as 9-5, for example.

They say you’re a student-athlete, but I think it’s really athlete-student,” Johnson expressed. “The game comes first.” Via Delco.today

The lawsuit was filed back in 2019, but within the past month and a half, there have been small victories for those on the plaintiff’s side. Federal judge John Padova rejected a motion by certain schools to dismiss the case, which can be viewed as a sympathetic response to Johnson’s case. In his order, Padova had several pieces of rationale supporting the need for further investigation.

“(Students) have reported that participation in NCAA sports have prevented them from taking classes that they wanted to take…(The NCAA) exercise significant control over their student athletes,” he wrote. Via Yahoo.com

This won’t be the last we’ll hear of this case, but it is even more interesting to view this in an era of NIL possibilities. Maybe this issue is less relevant now that players can benefit off of their NCAA athlete brands? Or, is it still extremely relevant because of the possible ramifications student-athletes can have to unionize, receive health care benefits, and a minimum wage? Regardless of which side you fall on, there will certainly be updates to this story in the coming months and years.

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